Fear takes toll on local businesses

Fewer customers are getting into Saddique Ahmed’s taxi lately, and when they do, the first question they ask is about the sniper.

“People are not traveling as much,” said Ahmed, of Woodbridge, who generally picks up riders at Dulles International Airport and takes them to any destination in the Washington region.

Fear of the serial sniper, who has shot 13 people in three weeks, is keeping locals holed up in their homes and keeping tourists at bay.

Ahmed said his business has dropped markedly in the past two weeks –from an average of seven trips a day to about four or five, at best.

Hotels are facing similar drops in customers.

“Business is terrible. People are changing their plans and deciding not to come to this area lately,” said Tomoe Rechkemmer, an employee of the Woodbridge Sleep Inn.

Unease about attacks led Jennifer Bonnet, of Boone, N.C., to cancel a planned trip to Northern Virginia. Bonnet was driving up to visit a Potomac News reporter when she heard about the latest attack on the radio and turned around.

“I just didn’t want to come under those circumstances,” she said.

Dale City resident Bob Hartman said his children haven’t been allowed to visit him from Roanoke since the sniper attacks began Oct. 2, because their mother is too scared to let them come to the area.

The Prince William-Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau said it’s too soon to tell if the local tourism industry has been affected by the sniper attacks, but the county’s primary tourist attractions are reporting a loss of visitors.

Manassas National Battlefield Park was booked this week with reservations from school and Scout groups, but all tours were canceled, said Tim Nosal, education specialist at the park.

Schools are putting field trips on hold and the park has suspended all outdoor ranger-led activities, so the decision to cancel visits was mutual, he said.

At Potomac Mills, tour bus operators have expressed concerns about guest security to mall management.

The mall has revised its procedure for bus loading, said mall spokesperson Stu Miller. He would not directly say if tour buses have canceled visits.

“The majority of trips go on as scheduled. You can infer from that what you want,” Miller said.

The Freedom Museum’s annual Festival of Freedom, held just three days after the sniper fatally shot a Gaithersburg man at a gas station near Manassas, saw a dramatic decrease in visitors.

“The sniper had a profound effect on attendance,” said organizer Chuck Colgan Jr., who said extra-tight security was provided by local police and Sheriff’s deputies.

Parents wouldn’t let their children volunteer at the event and many out-of-town guests called to see if they could use their tickets next year.

“It’s amazing the power this guy has over the whole region,” Colgan said.

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